The Kirsty Campbell Mystery Series: Box Set
"REALLY enjoyed this book. The heroine is a fascinating character with a truly original backstory - former suffragette/ one of the first female police officers. The book zips along nicely and satisfies on every level. It could be argued that this is an important book - detailing a huge step in the woman's movement - and the author very cleverly allows this to inform the character without giving the reader a lecture. Quality from start to finish!"Michael Malone, author
Book 1 - Devil's Porridge: Murder, mystery, and munitions. Kirsty tracks a killer's murderous trail and becomes entangled with saboteurs, Irish revolutionaries, and a German spy at Gretna munitions factory during WW1.
Book 2 - The Death Game: Kirsty Campbell returns to Dundee as the city's first policewoman. What horrors will she face in a deadly game of sacrifice and death? And how will she cope when the sins of the past come back to haunt her?
Book 3: - Death of a Doxy: Big Aggie's girls are much in demand in her notorious house of pleasure. When Lily, one of her most popular girls, is savagely killed, it sparks off a mystery with wide-reaching consequences. To find Lily's killer, Kirsty must unravel the dead girl's secrets. But the secrets lead her into danger because the killer will do anything to prevent exposure.
Three books to keep you guessing and keep you off your sleep
Release date: July 26, 2018
Publisher: Barker & Jansen
Print pages: 734
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Behind the book
The historical background of these books is the period during and after the First World War when many women were drafted into occupations where they had previously never been accepted. One of these occupations was the birth of the first voluntary women's police services set up by the suffragette societies at the start of the First World War after they abandoned their militant tactics.
These early women police are rarely mentioned or recognised in official police histories and I wanted to rectify that
The Kirsty Campbell Mystery Series: Box Set
Friday, 19 January 1917
Oily smoke rose from the smouldering bundle of rags. He covered his mouth and nose with a handkerchief. He should leave. It was dangerous here. But he had to be certain the fire took hold before he left.
He stepped over the girl lying at his feet and prodded the rags with the toe of his boot. A small flame flickered, quickly multiplying into more and larger flames, spreading, looking for fuel to feed their hunger.
They had been walking out for several weeks before he’d asked her to let him have a look inside and, at first, she’d said no. ‘It’d be more than my job’s worth. Nobody’s supposed to know what we do.’
‘You are a silly.’ He laughed and pulled her around to face him. ‘Everyone in Silvertown is aware of what the factory does.’
‘That’s as may be, but it don’t mean I have to let you see inside.’
He took her into his arms and kissed the point of her nose. ‘What harm will it do?’ He kissed her right eye, then her left one.
‘For all I know you might be a German spy.’
He held her back from him and looked into her eyes. ‘Do you think I am a spy?’
She looked away and mumbled, ‘How do I know what a spy looks like?’
‘Well, he wouldn’t look like me, I’m sure,’ he said, a hint of exasperation in his voice. ‘I am only a news reporter trying to do my job. Nobody got in Conan Doyle’s way when he wrote about a munitions factory. The Annandale Observer published his Moorside article last month, so I could do the same as he did, and give it another name.’ He gave her a slight shake and released her from his arms. ‘If that’s how you feel, perhaps we shouldn’t see each other anymore.’
‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’ve never met any reporters before, and I thought it strange you wanted to get into the factory.’
He relaxed and pulled her into his arms again. ‘I will be able to write a better article if you show me where everything takes place, and there’s been so much in the newspapers about us not having enough ammunition for our men at the front. It’s bad for morale that, so I need to prove we are doing something to increase the supply.’ He hugged her tight. ‘But if you don’t want to do your bit and help – well, the public will have to go on believing we can’t provide our fighting men with what they need.’
He whispered endearments to her, stroked her, made love to her. By the end of the evening, she agreed to do what he wanted.
‘It will have to be Friday,’ she said, ‘after everyone’s finished for the week. The chemist on duty will be in the lab, and Albert, the night watchman, should be in his hut. If you sneak past him, I’ll make sure the side door’s unlocked.’
* * *
Friday was dark, the moon obscured by clouds, which suited him nicely.
‘This is the melt-pot room,’ she said after she let him in. ‘This is where the trinitrotoluene is melted before they pour it into the casings.’
‘Isn’t that dangerous? TNT is an explosive.’
She shrugged her shoulders. ‘Not according to the bosses. They say an awful lot more heat would be needed before that could happen.’
‘You’re a very brave girl.’ He pulled her into his arms and kissed her long and hard before he strangled her.
With a last glance at the fire, he turned and ran for the door. It slammed shut behind him. He kept on running until he rounded the side of the building and passed the watchman’s hut, where Albert lay slumped on the floor, before slowing to a fast walk when he reached the road. It wouldn’t do to draw attention, but he wanted to get as far away from the factory as he could before the blaze became an inferno.
He had timed it well. The factories had closed for the weekend. The shopkeepers had pulled down their shutters. And most folks would be having their evening meal or enjoying a pint at one of the many pubs.
He hurried on and had just passed the fire station on North Woolwich Road when the crackle of flames, and the heat searing his neck and arms, forced him to look back. The windows of the factory glowed red, the flames behind them flickering and spiralling in a macabre dance.
A distant shout alerted him to the danger he was in, and he darted up a side street where he would not be so easily observed. The clang of the bell on the fire engine beat in his ears, getting louder and louder. Doors opened. Men, women and children tumbled out of their houses onto the pavement, staring aghast at the factory a few streets away.
Men rushed from door to door, banging and shouting, ‘The factory’s on fire.’
More people joined them, and soon there was a crowd of panic-stricken people, all running. He ran with them. There was safety in crowds.
Yellow, orange, and red flames leapt from the roof. Sparks rose and fell back to the ground, like shooting stars, smoke billowed upwards in great clouds, and the stink of burning chemicals stung his nostrils. But still he ran. While behind him the blaze increased, turning the evening sky crimson.
Victoria Dock was on his right when the first explosion came. The ground shook, buildings collapsed, and sparks showered the area, starting smaller fires where they landed. A fiery glow bathed everything in a blood-red vision of hell, silhouetting the houses left standing against the inferno. Then the second blast, louder, more spectacular, filled the sky with a display that would put Guy Fawkes to shame. A sizzling lump of flying metal flew past his head, singeing his hair and embedding itself in the road in front of him. The flour mills in the Victoria Dock crumbled under the force of the blast, and a gasometer at the other side of the river on the Greenwich Peninsula exploded, sending a glowing fireball sky-high.
His lungs felt as if they were exploding, but he turned and ran. Ran for his life.
* * *
THE DEATH GAME
Friday, 31 October 1919
She presses herself into the wall when she hears the scrape of the key in the lock. Which one will it be? And which game will she have to play.
So many men. So many games. She does not want to play their games, but she has to. She has to show them whatever they want. Fear. Sorrow. Anger. Gratitude. And above all she has to show them how much pleasure they give her.
The door opens, and light spills into the dark, windowless room. Her ankle chain clinks as she tries to push herself even further into the wall. The silhouetted shape moves towards her, and she clutches her arms around her body in an attempt to protect herself. All the time knowing she will have to do whatever he asks.
The shape reaches her and sits on the edge of her bed. He turns to face her, so his face is faintly illuminated.
‘Oh, it’s you.’ She sighs with relief.
‘Yes, child. I have come to take you away, but we must be quiet.’
‘I can’t go,’ she says.
‘Because if I go they will make Cissy take my place.’
‘I have arranged for Cissy to come as well. No one will be able to hurt her, and you will not have to do this anymore.’
‘Where will we go? We have nowhere but here.’
‘Trust me. I have it all arranged. You will both be safe and no one will be able to hurt you again.’
She feels the chain fall from her leg when he unlocks it. Standing up, she takes the hand held out to her.
She hesitates before walking through the door. ‘You are sure we will be safe?’ A trace of fear sounds in her voice. ‘They won’t be able to come after us and make me play the games again?’
‘Of course you will be safe. There is nothing for you to be afraid of. But we have to be quiet, and you have to be brave. Think of this as another game. The biggest game of all.’
One month earlier
Kirsty Campbell entered Ixworth Place Section House slamming the door behind her, shutting out the fog which cloaked everything in a clammy grey shroud. Lately, London never seemed to be free from fog. It crept into every corner, chilling the blood and numbing fingers and toes, even on the warmest of days.
In the gloom of the wood-panelled entrance hall she fumbled to unfasten her belt and unbutton her jacket. Her shoulders, stiff from maintaining a military posture, relaxed, and she wondered if there would be hot water for a bath. Maybe she would be lucky.
The sound of voices leaked through the common room door which hung ajar. Her night shift patrol in Hyde Park had been exasperating and she craved company, so she pushed the door open and flopped into a chair beside Gertie and Ethel.
‘Thank goodness my shift is over,’ she moaned. ‘My feet are killing me.’ Bending, she unlaced her knee-high boots.
‘I heard a rumour,’ Gertie said, watching her, ‘our boots are land army ones that were rejected because the leather is too stiff.’
‘I’m not surprised.’ Kirsty massaged her toes. ‘I wouldn’t put it past Sir Nevil to have supplied them simply to torture us.’
‘He certainly didn’t want us to look attractive,’ Ethel said, ‘otherwise he would not have agreed to the Harrods’ design for the uniforms.’
‘I didn’t join the police force to be attractive.’ Kirsty removed her bowl-shaped hat, placed it on the floor, and fingered her short auburn hair away from her neck. Although she was her best friend, Ethel’s need for male approval annoyed her.
‘Heavy day was it?’ Ethel refused to rise to the bait.
Kirsty nodded. ‘I had Constable Dillon following me today, but he was hopeless. I rousted two men out of the bushes with their trousers round their ankles, and he refused to arrest them because they looked like gentlemen. I wish we had powers of arrest and then we wouldn’t need to rely on silly idiots like him.’
‘Oh, I don’t know, he’s not so bad.’
Kirsty raised her eyebrows. ‘You don’t mean to say . . .’
‘He’s quite good-looking.’ Ethel flushed.
‘I suppose so, if what attracts you is muscle rather than brain cells. You know as well as I do, constables aren’t chosen for their intelligence.’
‘Maybe they should be.’ Gertie looked thoughtful.
Kirsty, aware of her dishevelled uniform and unlaced boots, pushed herself out of the chair and stood to attention. None of them had heard the sergeant enter the room.
‘Superintendent Stanley sent me to fetch you,’ Sergeant Wyles said.
‘Yes, ma’am.’ Kirsty’s fingers were already busy fastening her buttons.
They hardly attracted any attention as they marched through the streets to Scotland Yard. Londoners had become used to seeing policewomen in their military-style dark-blue serge uniforms. It had not always been that way, and when the women first wore them, Kirsty, along with the others, had been the subject of rude comments and jokes. But, despite that, she felt comfortable wearing her tunic with its hard stand-up collar, six polished buttons with her whistle on the end of a chain attached to the third one down, wide leather belt that pulled the waist of the jacket in allowing the bottom to flare out below her hips and leaving room for the capacious pockets, the only place to keep personal possessions. Her calf-length skirt was plainer, slightly flared and covered the top of her knee-high lace-up boots.
On arrival at The Yard, they walked through a stone arch and crossed the cobbled courtyard to the main door. Inside was a confusing warren of gloomy corridors, but Kirsty was familiar with the building and knew her way. Wondering what she had done to warrant a summons, she climbed the stairs and walked along the corridor to Superintendent Stanley’s office.
‘I will leave you here,’ Lilian Wyles said when they reached the superintendent’s door. ‘If you want to talk to me when you come out I will be in my office.’
‘Oh,’ Kirsty said. She had been expecting Sergeant Wyles to accompany her inside.
A strange smile flickered over Lilian Wyles’ lips. ‘You will be all right, there is nothing to worry about.’
Kirsty watched until the sergeant entered an office further up the corridor. Feeling bereft, she took a deep breath, straightened her uniform, and knocked on the door.
The superintendent stood, looking out the window, with hands clasped loosely behind her back. She was a tall woman with square shoulders and a long face. Her hair was cut so short it could not be seen beneath her military-style cap which looked like an inverted soup plate. Her uniform was immaculate while her belt and shoes had been polished until they gleamed. Yet she still managed to look feminine.
Kirsty stood to attention, even though her boots pinched her toes and the ache in her legs and feet was unbearable. She shifted her weight from foot to foot and wondered whether she should cough to announce herself.
The loud ticking of the grandfather clock, standing to the right of the massive oak desk, emphasized the silence in the room. Superintendent Stanley, engrossed in what was happening outside, ignored her presence.
At last, the superintendent said, ‘I am proud of my policewomen. Are you proud of your calling, Miss Campbell?’ She turned, fixing Kirsty with a penetrating stare.
When Mrs Stanley had been appointed last year, by the Metropolitan Police, as the first superintendent of an official women’s police service, Kirsty had thought it a strange choice. She could not understand why her own chief, Margaret Damer Dawson, had been overlooked. Particularly as Commandant Dawson had four years experience running the voluntary Women’s Police Service. But the police commissioner, Sir Nevil Macready, had been unable to forget the suffragette background of Margaret Damer Dawson’s voluntary body of women police, and preferred to appoint Mrs Stanley to lead the newly formed, Metropolitan Women Police Patrols. However, he did not have it all his own way because many of the Women’s Police Service members joined his new force. Kirsty was one of them.
Despite her initial misgivings, Superintendent Stanley had impressed Kirsty with her professionalism, and she soon forgot her earlier resentment. Now, Kirsty’s uniform was every bit as immaculate as the one worn by her mentor, and she always tried to behave in a fitting manner, one that would win the respect of the woman in front of her. Kirsty even had her long auburn hair cropped, although it still curled around her ears in an exasperating feminine manner.
Kirsty straightened, lifting her chin and squaring her shoulders. ‘Yes, ma’am.’
Superintendent Stanley studied her for a moment before nodding as if confirming something to herself.
Kirsty squirmed under the superintendent’s scrutiny, her stomach did somersaults, and heat spread through her body.
‘I understand the Dundee City Police Force is considering the appointment of a woman.’ Superintendent Stanley’s gaze lingered on Kirsty’s face as if waiting for a response. ‘Chief Constable Carmichael has approached me for advice, and I have agreed to consider his request to transfer one of my staff. The position will initially be a temporary one but if it is successful it could become permanent.’
Kirsty shifted uncomfortably under the superintendent’s stare.
‘It is my understanding you have connections with Dundee, so I thought you might be interested. Besides, up to now Scotland only has one policewoman, Miss Emily Miller in Glasgow. It would be beneficial for the policewomen’s cause if more women could be introduced to Scottish police forces. It would also be good for your career.’
The unexpectedness of the offer left Kirsty speechless because she had not been aware Superintendent Stanley knew she was Scottish. She had never had the strong Dundonian brogue with the long drawn-out vowels, so it hadn’t been too difficult to lose the remnants of her accent after she came to London.
A lump rose in the back of her throat threatening to choke her, and she had trouble breathing.
When she left Scotland, ten years ago, she had been determined never to return and believed she had come to terms with this. Kirsty had not thought of Dundee as home for such a long time, so the upsurge of homesickness surprised her. Suddenly, she realized she wanted to go home. She wanted to see her mother and father again. And, of course, Ailsa, one of the reasons for the estrangement from her parents.
‘I have arranged a meeting for you with Chief Constable Carmichael in this room, at two o’clock, tomorrow.’
It was evident Superintendent Stanley was not anticipating a refusal.
‘You do realize,’ she continued, ‘there is talk of a committee to be set up to examine the role of women police. The police authorities in Scotland are somewhat backward in respect of women providing a police service, but Mr Carmichael is one of the more forward looking chief constables. He likes it to be seen that he is keeping up with the times. I would think he is anxious to employ a woman in his force before the committee produces its report.’
Kirsty nodded her agreement. Afterwards, she wondered if she had been foolish to accept the offer so quickly, and doubts filled her mind. The more she thought about it, the more she felt it was not a good idea.
* * *
Her meeting with Chief Constable Carmichael was pleasant. He was a tall, middle-aged man with a perpetual twinkle in his eye. Kirsty liked him. She liked his humour, his appearance, and his ability to put her at ease. She thought he was a man she could trust and respect. Her doubts dispersed, and she relaxed.
‘I will not be there when you take up your post, Miss Campbell,’ Chief Constable Carmichael told her as he gave her a letter to present to the assistant chief constable.
The full impact of her decision did not hit her until the next day. She was in the middle of knotting her tie, and making sure it sat neatly under her stiff collar, when she looked in the mirror and met the eyes of her friend who was doing the same thing. Ethel turned from the mirror, but not before Kirsty saw her own misery reflected in Ethel’s eyes.
‘Oh, Ethel. What have I done?’
Ethel and Kirsty had met when they became members of The Women’s Freedom League. They had been suffragettes together, first in Dundee and then in London. When the two main suffragette organizations formed The Women’s Police Volunteers, among the first women to join had been Kirsty and Ethel. They had shared their lodgings, their lives, and their secrets.
‘How can I face my parents again? How can I face Ailsa?’
‘It will be all right.’ Ethel laid her hand on Kirsty’s arm. ‘It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, you’d be a fool to miss it.’
‘But I’ve never worked as part of a male police force up to now. My colleagues and superiors have always been women. It’s going to be difficult to fit in. There have never been women police in Dundee, and you know what policemen can be like. They will never accept me.’
‘Do you remember why we became policewomen?’ Ethel stared at the reflection of Kirsty in the mirror and her voice became thoughtful. ‘Anyone who knew us then would have thought it a strange job for a pair of suffragettes, especially when so many of us had suffered at the hands of the police.’
‘Not all of us suffered as much as others,’ Kirsty murmured. ‘I was never in prison or force-fed like some of them.’
‘That doesn’t mean you wouldn’t have gone through the same if you’d had to.’
‘But so many of the women we marched and worked with underwent more than I did. Even Sub-Commandant, Mary Allen, was imprisoned three times.’ Kirsty always felt guilty her suffering had been so much less than that of many of her friends.
‘Yes, and we hated the police.’ Ethel paused for breath. ‘We joined the force because we thought the constant fighting and protesting was getting us nowhere, and we would have a better chance of changing things from the inside. Besides, lots of women have fallen foul of the law and suffered at the hands of policemen. Think of the girls forced into prostitution in order to make a living. Why should they be treated the way they are because they’re poor? And what about the victims, the girls who were raped or abused. What kind of justice did they ever get from the police or the courts?’
Kirsty remembered her own rape and her reluctance to tell anyone about it. ‘You are right,’ she said. ‘But we were so idealistic thinking we could change the police force by becoming policewomen.’
Ethel smiled. ‘It hasn’t all been failure though. Maybe we haven’t changed the attitude of the policemen at the top. What was it Sir Nevil Macready called us, “suffragettes and lesbians”? As if being one meant you were also the other.’ She laughed derisively.
Kirsty smiled at the idea of flirtatious Ethel being a lesbian. Nothing could be more ridiculous.
‘But,’ she continued, ‘we do help women who come into contact with the police, and we have to keep on working towards acceptance. That’s what you can do in Dundee. Make them respect you. Make them recognize women have a place in the police force.’
‘But how can I do that? I’ll be one woman on my own.’ Kirsty paused. ‘And I won’t have you.’ Her voice was barely audible.
‘Nonsense,’ Ethel said. ‘We’ll write and if it doesn’t work out you will come back. Mrs Stanley would not refuse you.’
‘I suppose not, but it would be admitting defeat and I hate giving up on anything. It’s not only that, I’ll be living and working so close to my parents. What if they refuse to acknowledge me? After all, it’s been ten years since I had contact with them after that last horrible argument when my father gave me the choice of giving up the suffragette cause or leaving his house forever. I couldn’t give up the cause, Ethel.’ She sighed. ‘I accepted his rejection at the time, but it’s been hard.’ Kirsty paused, struggling to maintain her composure. ‘And then, there’s Ailsa.’
Ethel’s hand tightened on her arm. ‘You’ll be fine. In a month or so you’ll have forgotten London.’ She grinned. ‘Think about the London beaks and how they treat us. Remember how Mr Mead refused to hear our evidence and threw us out of court last week? “Ladies have no place in a court of law, such evidence is not for their ears”.’ Ethel mimicked his deep voice. ‘It didn’t matter the evidence wasn’t heard because we were the ones supposed to give it. Do you remember the jujitsu holds we were taught during our training? I was tempted to use one on him.’
Ethel’s eyes gleamed with mirth and Kirsty laughed at the thought of Mr Mead being thrown to the floor by Ethel.
‘Surely it can’t be any worse in Dundee,’ Ethel added.
Kirsty nodded. She pulled her belt firmly around her middle and decided she had no option but to get on with it.
* * *
Kirsty lived through the next three weeks in a daze and left London in a whirl of activity. Ethel helped her pack, checked nothing was forgotten, and arranged for a motor cab to call at the section house. But even then, Kirsty almost missed the train after a dray horse collapsed in the road overturning its cart, and scattering beer barrels all over the cobbled street.
The cabby was in a foul mood when they arrived at the station and, after grabbing the money for his fare, dumped Kirsty’s luggage on the pavement at her feet before driving off.
Kirsty smiled ruefully at Ethel and looked around for a porter. After a few moments, she hefted her portmanteau onto a nearby trolley and pushed it into the gloomy railway station which, in the aftermath of the railway strike, seemed busier than usual.
The smell of smoke, grime and sweaty bodies caught at her throat, and it took all her willpower to battle through the crowds to where the train was getting up steam in preparation to leave.
Kirsty heaved her belongings into a carriage and jumped in. The door slammed with a finality which made her shudder. She grabbed the leather window strap and pulled it, allowing the window to thud down. Leaning out, she grasped the door handle, but Ethel’s hand restrained her and she loosened her hold.
‘I’m going to miss you,’ Ethel said, her eyes bright with tears.
A cloud of smoke belched from the engine, and the train started to move. Ethel’s mouth opened and closed, but the piercing noise of the train’s whistle drowned her words.
Kirsty continued to lean out of the window, while she watched her friend becoming smaller and further away. Grasping the leather strap she closed the sash window with a slam and sank into her seat.
All her doubts resurfaced and she would have given anything to be back on the station platform saying to Ethel, ‘I’m not going. I’ve decided to stay in London.’ But now, as she listened to the rhythmic sound of the train wheels on the track, she knew it was far too late to change her mind.
* * *
DEATH OF A DOXY
Monday, 8 December 1919
Splotches of blood combined with other stains created a grim kaleidoscope of colour on the faded blue mattress.
He had meant to save her, not kill her. But her depravity overwhelmed him when she mocked him and laughed in his face.
Bile burned his throat and he leaned over the box sink in front of the window waiting for the pain to pass. Outside, footsteps on the landing caused him to draw back and he slid into a shadowy corner of the room, his hand tightening on the poker which he still clutched. When the sound disappeared he returned to the sink, turned the tap, bent over, and swilled water around his mouth. The burning sensation faded. He closed his eyes and leaned his head on the cool glass of the window, in the vain hope the scene behind him would disappear and everything would be the same as when he entered the room less than half an hour ago.
An image of her flashed through his mind. Innocent blue eyes; now so knowing. Hair, golden as daffodils on a spring morning, streaming behind her in the breeze; now dull and lank. Skin, translucent in the sunshine; now caked in thick face paint.
Where had that innocent young girl gone?
He opened his eyes and turned to survey the room. A dingy place containing nothing more than a rickety wardrobe, a bed, one chair, and a table holding a guttering oil lamp. The last embers of a fire glowed in the black grate of the fireplace which spilled ash over the floor. And on the mantelpiece, a candle dripped wax into a saucer.
But the thing that held his eyes more than anything else was the body which sprawled on the mattress before him, beaten and bloodied, and no longer the girl he remembered. His hand loosened on the poker which clattered onto the wooden floorboards to lie in a widening pool of blood.
Unaware he had been holding his breath, it now whispered out from between his lips, and the anger that consumed him was replaced by exhilaration rushing through his body, reviving him, exciting him.
He had saved her, although not in the way he intended. He could see now. This way was better. It was the only way to eradicate the depraved life she led. But he couldn’t leave her like this, with her clothing in disarray. No, that wouldn’t do. He would make her respectable, lay her out before her body stiffened, and arrange her dress to provide her with a modesty she hadn’t experienced for a long time.
Her limbs moved easily under his tender hands. He rolled her onto her back and straightened her legs, smoothing the dress over them. Next, he crossed her hands over her chest and arranged her blood-soaked hair around her shoulders.
Pleased with his work he rinsed her blood from the poker. Then, taking one last look at the scene in front of him, he left the room, closing and locking the door behind him.
At the bottom of the stairs, he sidled around the final corner and hurried across the backlands behind the tenement. This was an area of grass, weeds and rubbish which serviced the tenements that bordered it. The place where the tenants kept their bins and hung their washing on ropes to dry. He slipped through a close at the other side of this waste ground, opposite the building he’d left, and emerged onto the street. After taking a circuitous route and keeping to side streets he eventually reached Magdalen Green. From there it was a short walk to where the River Tay flowed to meet the North Sea. With one last look around to make sure no one observed him, he raised his arm and threw the poker into the water.
He smiled to himself as he walked homeward. His job was done.
‘I’ll sort that little bitch out, see if I don’t.’ Aggie heaved herself out of the chair, staggering as the room swayed gently around her. ‘What gives her the right to insult good customers like yourself?’ She smiled at the portly, little man sitting opposite.
‘Ach. I didn’t mean it to be a complaint like. She said she wasn’t in the mood. And Rita wasn’t so bad although I’d have preferred Lily.’
‘She’s no right not to be in the mood. She’s paid good money to be in the mood.’ Aggie staggered through the door. ‘Sorting out, that’s what she needs, and I’ll soon see to that.’
Fresh air swirled around Aggie’s head as she lurched along the stone landing with only her grasp on the blisteringly cold iron rail preventing her from falling. She almost welcomed the sour warmth of the stairwell as she entered it to make her way to the next landing.
The thumping of her feet on the sticky steps leading down the spiral stair turret resounded upwards, giving her the impression she was not alone. Her head swam as she tried to focus her eyes in the darkness, and she stopped her downward progress to lean against the wall and catch her breath. She listened for a moment, but there was only the sound of her own breathing and the echo of her feet.
Several steps later she emerged from the choking closeness of the stairwell onto the second-floor landing, a stone platform similar to the one above and known locally as a plattie, which jutted out from the rear of the building to overhang the backlands below. She turned to the right.
Laughter and the low buzz of voices filtered out from the first door Aggie passed, while a curtain fluttered briefly at the window of the next flat. The last house on the landing appeared silent and empty, although she knew the girl was inside because of the faint glimmer of light showing.
She banged on the door. ‘I know you’re in there,’ she shouted. After listening for a moment and hearing nothing, she thumped again. ‘Let me in if ye know what’s good for ye.’ She listened once more. ‘Little bitch,’ she said as she fumbled in her skirt pocket for her master keys. ‘I’ll show you who is boss of this outfit.’
The door swung open and, pushing her way inside, Aggie prepared to give Lily a tongue lashing. She opened her mouth to speak but gagged on the words. Unable to move she stood for a moment struggling to understand what lay on the bed in front of her. But her mind rejected it. The girl was playing a twisted game with her. Well, she’d show her who was boss and Lily would think twice before playing funny games again.
Aggie moved closer. Her feet slipped on something wet and she sat down with a thud. She thrust out a hand but the substance beneath her oozed between her fingers and something dripped from the girl’s hair onto the back of Aggie’s hand.
She opened her mouth again and roared at the top of her voice, ‘Murder! Bloody murder!’
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